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Travel Tips

How to Shoot on an iPhone Like a Pro

With high-res iPhones and editing apps, everyone and their grandma fancies themselves a photographer these days. But an Instagram account does not a pro make. So how do you take your vacation pics to the next level? Jetsetter photog April Ellis has 11 tips and a couple of app suggestions for mastering the shooting game.

See recent posts by April Ellis

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Get lost…and be patient

Serendipity plays an enormous role in travel photography, so throw yourself into the rhythm of a destination, always have your camera handy and keep your eyes open. At the same time, prepare to be patient. Pros often hang out for hours for that perfect confluence of setting, lighting, crowds, etc.

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Be a people person

Landscapes are infinitely better with people in them. It helps to enhance scale and give a sense of perspective. So capture travel partners, locals and other tourists to lend context to your shots.

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Do some lines

When we look at a photo, our eye is naturally drawn along lines. You can use lines to control the way people’s eyes move around the picture - straight, diagonal, curvy, zigzag, radial etc. Most digital cameras have settings allowing you to see a grid through your viewfinder in order to line up your shots. As a general rule, most photos look better if the horizon is positioned above or below the middle of the frame, not directly in the center of the image.

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Get on top, or be on bottom

Rather than just shooting from eye level, consider photographing from high above, down low, from the side, from the back, from far away or very close up. Try a different perspective or vantage point to make things interesting.

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The rule of thirds

Your first instinct might be to put your subject (whether that’s a landmark or a person) dead center in your photo. But that makes for a pretty flat image. Instead imagine a tic-tac-toe grid over the scene, splitting up the photo into thirds. The best place to place your points of interest are where those lines intersect. Instagram conveniently displays this in camera mode.

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Mirrors and patterns

Symmetry is pleasing to the eye (just check out the beautifully matched features of your favorite supermodel). How can you bring symmetry into your photography? Think of framing an image to have equal parts on either side forming mirror images of each other (as in the Milan shot above). Along the same lines, repetitive patterns create interest and organization within a photo (check out the patterns created in the arched doors and trellised glass above).

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Get some action

In order to convey a sense of motion when photographing a moving subject, use panning. Start following your subject before you take the shot, and continue to follow it after you click. Rotate your entire upper body to follow your subject. If it’s done effectively, you’ll get a relatively sharp subject against a blurred background.

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Keep it simple

Focusing on too many details within a photo will distract from the main subject of your image. In the image above, the photographer blurs out the background and the other monkeys in order to keep your focus on the mother and baby monkeys. You can also use light to bring focus to your subject as the eye is naturally drawn to the brightest spot of a photo.

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Fill the frame

Get close to your subjects. Often a photo lacks impact because the subject gets lost among the clutter of its surroundings. By cropping tight around the subject, you eliminate the visual background noise. In the above image, the photog crops out the upper torso of the subject in order to keep your focus on the vibrant colors and textures of the leaves. Your eye knows exactly where to look.

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Some background on backgrounds

Don’t just concentrate on your subject – look at what’s happening behind them too. Create contrast with their background, shoot from a different vantage in order to replace a cluttered background with a cleaner one or throw the background out of focus. You can create depth within a photo by thinking about including objects in the foreground, middle and background.

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Break the rules

All of the "rules" above should be taken with a dash of salt. If they don't work in your scene, ignore them; if you find a great composition that contradicts them, then go for it. It’s when you understand the rules of composition and then break them on purpose that things start to get interesting. Go wild.

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Photos courtesy ColorStory


Apps to Up Your Ante

Camera+ comes packed with several handy features that your camera app doesn't. You can shoot like a pro using the touch exposure and focus. There is a stabilizer and burst option to capture all the action. Use the zoom, effects and brightening tools to expose interesting shots. Plus, you can easily manage and share your photos for the $2.99 app fee.

ColorStory is our favorite app for infusing photos with bright fresh colors. It comes with a suite of filters and effects with an additional 100+ filters, 40+ effects and 20+ tools available for purchase. Even the most bleak photos can look amazing with the pop this app lends.

For those analogs photogs at heart try Manual for full control of exposure. The $1.99 fee is well worth the control.

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Accessories For the Win

The DxO ONE packs the capabilities of a digital SLR into a camera the size of a deck of cards. It attaches to your smartphone, capturing 20.2 megapixel photos and HD video in an app where you can instantly edit and upload to Instagram and Facebook. It's like a mobile photo studio that fits in your pocket!

The Lunatik Aquatik is one of the few, fully waterproof cases with a slim form factor, and a colorful design. This one is TouchID compatible and scores an IP68 rating, which means the case will, at minimum, protect your phone when submerged for up to 30 minutes in up to 3 feet of water. Lunatik has another, beefier case that'll withstand higher impact falls, if it's rugged protection you're after.

If you're looking for an easier way to take selfies HISY, pronounced "hi-see," is the way to go. The little puck connects to your iOS 7 or higher device via Bluetooth. It takes just a couple seconds to set up and after that you just launch the native camera app and press the button on top. It works for both photos and video.


Show us what you shot

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? Share your travel photos with us on Instagram by hashtagging them #jetsettering

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